ASCE Dipping Their Toe into Web 2.0

Today I received my usual e-mail from ASCE that displays headlines of stories related to civil engineering and was surprised to see ASCE was finally offering a widget for their content. Well now, that was progressive, and I love widgets -sleek, functional, look great on your Website. So I clicked on over to get my very own ASCE widget, download the html, and install it on my Website.

When I got to the site I realized, instead of creating a true widget with tools like Widgetbox or Widgadget, ASCE was offering a program that you install for your desktop. Curious to see what they had set up, I did download the program and noticed that it appeared to be a weather application. This seemed confusing because I thought I was downloading something that would allow me to search and access ASCE content.

ASCE Widget for Your Desktop
ASCE Widget for Your Desktop

It all made sense once the “widget” launched because in the end, it appeared as a small box on my screen that reported weather in my area and had Web links to the ASCE site. The only extra was an RSS display that shows up as an extra window on the screen with feeds from ASCE blogs and the ability to add other RSS feeds.

ASCE RSS Feed Display
ASCE RSS Feed Display

Now, I am an ASCE member; it is a great organization, but I have to say this is a little disappointing. Most people hooked to the Internet probably already have a weather feed; weather displays seem to be one of the first applications people set up for themselves. And for me, having direct links to specific areas of the ASCE Website sitting on my desktop every day is not really valuable. I would prefer to access the main site when the need arises and go from there. As for the RSS feeds, again, I think most people have chosen their own method of delivery for these. My choice has been igoogle.

So while ASCE has made some strides in creating blogs such as Our Failing Infrastructure, (which I am not sure is such a good title for a blog about something for which we are responsible – think how that comes across to the general public) and they have set up a Facebook group and a group on LinkedIn, they sort of missed the boat on this widget thing.

As a member of ASCE, I would see more value from having a widget created with one of those other tools mentioned above that I could display on my own Website. This method of delivery would allow all members of ASCE to become mini feeds and info points that offer better access to the organization’s content and message. It is time for ASCE to take the plunge and immerse the organization in the viral wonder of Web 2.0.

(An added tip to ASCE: please think about using Twitter to deliver the headline information that you now send out in e-mail. It would really help me stem the rising tide of e-mails.)


Web 2.0 & Government – Helping us to Just Do It!

“With the adoption of social computing and social media by citizens under the age of 25 already exceeding 75 percent, government organizations now need to plan and implement initiatives to engage and service the citizens of today and tomorrow.” This is a statement taken from “Leveraging Web 2.0 in Government,” a recently released paper published by the IBM Center for The Business of Government that summarizes the results of a study undertaken by Ai-Mei Chang and P.K. Kannan. The study, which focused on understanding social computing, developing the framework, understanding citizen perceptions, and figuring out how to measure engagement and effectiveness, came up with the following findings:

• Government needs to meet citizens where they are online.
• Citizens are willing to interact with government agencies online. (enhance trust, increase transparency, increase citizen influence)
• The role of intermediaries will increase. (feels they must employ and leverage intermediaries but this decreases control)
• Government will need to rethink content and service design.
• Government will have to find ways to embed authority in its web-based services.
• Some citizens are concerned about equal access.
• Citizens trust the government with personal data but not for service efficiency.
• Government will need to measure the effectiveness of its Web 2.0 initiatives.

These findings led the researchers to develop the following recommendations:

• Just do it
• Develop a government-wide inventory of common Web 2.0 issues.
• Strategically rethink how to deliver on your mission.
• Reconfigure your Internet information and services to be more component based.
• Ensure authenticity of government information and services.
• Learn and keep an open mind.

As a government worker myself, I agree with most of the findings except for the idea that government requires an intermediary to pull off successful implementation of social media. I find it a paradox that people still spread this myth that somehow private management is better than public while all these major, private businesses continue to fail due to poor management and possibly questionable practices. How many states, counties, or cities with the same monetary value have failed and then showed up on the steps of Congress hoping for a bailout?

Another issue is that intermediaries usually have never had any experience in government and do not understand the policies, procedures, and laws under which government works. They also do not understand that the purpose of government is to serve the people in the most effective and efficient manner possible. I realize that some agencies are better at achieving this than others, but if they are ineffective or inefficient, people have an opportunity at the next election to try to remedy that. Also, unless serving as a volunteer, an intermediary is in business and therefore must be driven by profit and not the best interests of the public.

The other issue with an intermediary is the loss of trust. As pointed out by the study, people do trust government with personal information, and this trust would probably not extend to a non-government entity running the show.

Additionally, the use of an intermediary could cause people to feel someone has more control than they do. The concern expressed by people in this study about ensuring equal access reflects this. Everyone in a community wants to be considered equal. They can accept someone in government moderating because in the end they have control over that person’s participation, but once a private citizen steps into that role, they want to know “how come that person is so special?” This risks losing buy-in and participation.

Overall, the report provided important information and guidance for governments as we transition to these new methods of communicating with our constituents. I like the “Just do it” recommendation, but after talking with some other government workers, I find that is easier said than done. Even if someone in government is ready to go forward, there is a learning curve with and possibly resistance from others in their agency. We are at the threshold of drastically changing the way we do business, and not only within government. What we need now is some good promotional materials we can use to take back to others in our agencies to get everyone on board. And then we need good guidance documents with some best practices and ideas for implementation that fit within the rules, policies, procedures, and laws under which we work.


MuniGov 2.0 is Launched

A few weeks ago, I was introduced to Greever Wemyss (Second Life name) by a mutual friend who realized we both have an interest in local government and its use of Web 2.0 and virtual worlds. After a few discussions, we decided that we would create a Second Life group that is specifically focused on local government to work in parallel with our involvement in the Real Life in Second Life Government group. We felt it was important to create this additional group to avoid cluttering up the other group with specific issues that might not interest those in state and federal government.

Our first meeting will be Mon., Sept. 8, 2008, at 1:00 p.m. EST. in the Civic Forum area on Public Works Island. We will start with an open agenda. Anyone working in or having an interest in local government is encouraged to stop by and contribute. If you can’t make the meeting, you can also join the group MuniGov 2.0 in Second Life to receive notices of future meetings and meeting minutes.


The Building Industry Meets Web 2.0 at Be2Camp

Be2Camp Logo
How can the building industry use Web 2.0 tools to enhance delivery of services and better integrate new concepts like sustainability? These are some of the questions and issues that will be discussed at the upcoming barcamp, Be2Camp, to be held at The Building Centre on Store Street in London on Oct. 10, 2008. This event will begin at 10 a.m. and will adhere to the delivery method of a traditional barcamp event.

The agenda continues to evolve, but to date those attending can look forward to hearing about topics such as Web 2.0 technologies, collaboration through document management, use of open souce or public data, use of charrettes, peer production, virtual worlds, green technologies, and post occupancy evaluations. Other proposed topics include the use of voice over IP services such as Skype, carbon footprints, cloud computing, discussion of BIMstorm, social networks, and podcasts. A Pecha Kucha session will take place after the close of the barcamp.

As usual, the pace and organization of these events evolve over time even changing throughout the actual day of the event. The focused and fast-paced delivery has become one of the more attractive components of this type of conference. Those working in the building industry who may have an interest in attending are encouraged to visit the Be2Camp network site, sign up as members, look through the agenda, and register to attend for free. Anyone who may want to volunteer to speak can also sign up at this network site.

BIW Technologies, EMS Ltd., and The Building Centre are the designated sponsors to date – other companies or suppliers to the industry can sign up for sponsorships by e-mailing Martin Brown, one of the Be2Camp organizers.


Why Do Social Networks Hate My Avatar?

Ok, I am really starting to get a complex about my avatar. For the second time this year, I have tried to join a social/business network and been told by the administrator that they don’t let people stay in their network unless a “real” photo is used in the profile. In other words, “No Avatars Allowed.” The network this time is a CAD-related ning network named Space Claiming.

Pam Broviak\'s Avatar - Banned for being non-real
Pam Broviak's Avatar - Banned for being non-real

Because I already have blogged about “avatar discrimination” here, I will not go into all that again. But each time this happens, I cannot help but wonder why the network administrator makes this decision. Are they so superficial that they need to actually see what someone looks like in order to adequately judge if someone is worthy of being admitted into their special group. They certainly cannot think I am nonhuman – I post blogs, upload photos, comment on other’s posts, respond to messages. Maybe they hate the way my avatar looks. All of these thoughts go through my mind, and then I realize if someone can only accept my contributions if they can see what I look like, then I probably don’t want to be part of that group anyway. It is kind of like what happens in high school, but I never thought 28 years after graduation, I would still be dealing with that mentality.

Maybe next time, I will just upload a photo of my crazy Aunt Sophie – God rest her soul. Would network administrators prefer this because it is real?

My crazy Aunt Sophie (now deceased).
My Aunt Sophie (now deceased).


U.S. EPA Launches “Science Wednesday”

The U.S. EPA continues to successfully implement Web 2.0 tools in an effort to reach out to the public. Their latest launch, Science Wednesday, “will feature experiences related to environmental science, brought to you by scientists, engineers, researchers, and perhaps the occasional science writer from across EPA.” Anyone can access this feature by visiting Greenversations: the U.S. EPA blog.